European rail freight users call for more dialogue with operators
Analyst: More privatization of Europe’s railroads to get cargo off roads
The French word for freight is fret, and judging by a seminar held in Paris this week on European rail transport there are still plenty of niggling issues shippers want resolved before they will fully commit to shifting their cargo in significant volumes from the road and onto tracks.
The European Commission has been busy promoting rail transport’s green credentials and wants freight prioritized on key corridors of a pan-continental network to help meet emissions targets and tackle the ongoing problem of congestion.
However, during a seminar hosted by the European Shippers’ Council at the SITL conference on Tuesday, delegates were told that poor service quality, cross-border difficulties, and a lack of dialogue between operators and customers all create barriers to rail freight’s future success on the continent.
“What we want and need is fair continental competition between railway players. Unfortunately, while the common market happened on the road and other segments, it didn't happen in the rail, which remained a very national business for a long time,” said Marco Sorgetti, secretary general of the European Association for Forwarding, Transport, Logistic and Customs Services (CLECAT), who’s freight forwarder members move a high percentage of Europe’s cargo across different modes.
Sorgetti said all of CLECAT’s past approaches to discuss optimizing the rail system with the incumbent, predominantly state-owned operators, and new market entrants, have all been ignored.
“Our companies have the volumes to set up services almost overnight,” he said. “Just tell us where you can put the train and we'll give you the cargo. I encourage you to take business opportunities more seriously. The market is going down for the rail and in our opinion, the right way for it to go up is not by legal instrument, it's by business opportunities.”
Denis Choumert, purchasing and logistics manager at one of Europe's largest cement producers Ciments Calcia, complained that shippers are in a “black corridor” when it comes to dealing with European rail operators.
“What we have in mind when we discuss with train companies is that they should bring us a service that is as close as possible to road transportation,” he said. “This is very seldom true. It is not true in terms of quality of service and it is not true for interface to help us understand what is going on in terms of short and long-term improvements.”
On the flip side, Eric Demonsant, director general of Rail Link Europe, a joint venture established in January 2007 by Rail Link (owned by CMA CGM) and Veolia Transport, said operators need more support from shippers to improve standards.
“I think the market is still not committing to transferring large volumes from road to train,” he said. “We need more commitment from shippers to develop new services. We cannot take risk at 2 million to 3 million euros per year for each project.”
A later SITL seminar on the environmental challenges facing ports highlighted the necessity of improved rail connections to the hinterland. Hans Smits, chief executive officer of the Port of Rotterdam Authority, explained that terminal operators seeking concessions for the 16 million-TEU Maasvlakte 2 development are subject to strict criteria regarding sustainability. The Dutch port will inflict “hefty fines” to terminal companies that don’t live up to their commitment to move no more than 35 percent of the total volume of containers by road by 2035.
At the earlier seminar, Uwe Bakosch, DB Intermodal’s executive vice president network management of corridors, said that greater cooperation is required among all supply-chain stakeholders.
“It’s up to us on the land side to ensure we match what is happening on the sea-side of things. It can only be done in a joint approach.” ' Simon Heaney